with a shift of air
one note of birdsong.
Uncurl, roll over, eyes open,
Tail switch, whiskers twitch.
Burrow deeper, darker
into soft rustling clouds and find
familiar, no fur
Sniff, grab, nip.
But only a chase away wrapped up
waiting to be explored, discovered, gnawed.
First light creeping behind the curtains.
Stalking an arm,
At last attention
More, more, more
delightful tickling stroking.
Full day, sunshine, action.
Run downstairs to get there first.
But not for long.
Race for the door
in the dampness of dew.
Today the city belongs to you. Break out
pink cowboy hats, the whistle, the rainbow flag,
celebrate in the streets with your proud tag.
Toss your flamboyant head and dare to shout
at a tight lipped world. Today – abandon all doubt –
it’s carnival, it’s tolerance – and tack.
Embrace your gay police your six foot drag
queens; all assembled, marching out
and proud. Demure transgendered on their bus,
the almost naked and the over-dressed.
All jeers and mocking voices now suppressed
beneath the glory of the Gay Men’s Chorus.
But we, dull heterosexuals, hesitant and shy,
hover on the pavement, watching the parade pass by.
Father Peter’s Day of Judgement
Mrs O’Leary’s scream pierced the silence of St Wilfrid’s Church, hit the hard chill of stone pillars, echoed away upwards into early morning darkness. It was a scream to waken the dead. Though not, sadly, the newly departed Charles Brown who was sprawled untidily on the blood stained altar steps.
Father Peter remembered that scream as he sat on the edge of a hard prison bed, staring at the inside of the metal door, no lock, no handle, and thought about blood, and wondered about the existence of God.
He tried to see it through Mrs O’Leary’s eyes. She arrives at St Wilfrid’s in good time for early mass, is surprised to find the heavy wooden front door ajar, but steps gratefully inside out of the freezing rain, removing her rain hat and shaking it out as she enters the body of the church. Mrs O’Leary stops dead at the sight of her parish priest, Father Peter, knife in hand, kneeling over the body of his blood-stained church warden
There had been so much blood. Blood tumbled over the cream stone of the altar steps, blood pooled on the fleur de lys tiles of the transept, blood crept up the lace of Father Peter’s surplice creating a Christmas hem on its snowy whiteness.
By now the gossip would be running along the well-to-do streets of his parish.
“Have you heard?”
“Saw it with our own eyes. Took him away in the back of a police car.”
Already word would be scampering down the tree-lined avenues, rattling among the afternoon tea cups.
“The sergeant said he was a Prime Suspect.”
“They say he’s done it before.”
“Record as long as your arm.”
“So the sergeant said.”
“Surely not our Wonderful Father Peter?”
“Killed a man back in Liverpool. Life sentence. The sergeant said.”
Father Peter slipped slowly from the edge of the bed on to his knees in the familiar position of prayer.
“Our Father…” He tried to say the words but his throat contracted, harsh and dry. No prayer. No God.
Where was God now? Now when he really needed Him. Since the day of the miracle – over forty years ago – Pete Duffy, now known to all as The Wonderful Father Peter, had never once questioned the existence of the Heavenly one. Never for a moment doubted that it was God who had transformed him from a vicious young thug into a compassionate priest. On all that long road, serving out another eight years of his sentence, convincing the prison authorities he could be released early, persuading the seminary to enrol him as a candidate for the priesthood, he never once doubted that this was what God intended him to do. So why was he back here again, in another prison cell, facing another murder charge? Had it all been a huge mistake, a vast delusion? Was there no God after all, only a wicked dance of fate that randomly gave and snatched away?
He wrestled to stay focused on the philosophical conundrum. But the grey chill of memory came creeping in around the edges of his concentration, the dark pit of fear cracked open beneath him. It was the smell of prison – that familiar stench of desperation drowning beneath industrial strength disinfectant. It was the too bright light burning behind its protective metal cage in the windowless cell. It was the crashing, murmuring, yelling of prisoners in police custody. All this drew him back into the darkness where there was no God, no hope.
The cell floor was icy beneath his knees. He looked down at his white paper suit, remembered the reassuring swirl of the cassock that for twenty years had been a constant comfort. Why this? Why now? Surely he had atoned for the brief months of his sinful youth. All the boys he had turned away from a life of crime, all the young men he had rescued from mindless evil. Surely he was the lost sheep over whom the angels rejoiced. If there was a God he should be rewarding his faithful servant. If there was a God.
Voices interrupted his gloomy contemplation. He heaved himself to his feet as the cell door clanged open and a blast of relief swept through him as he recognised his old friend Dr Evans.
“Father. What’s happened?” The doctor was searching his face with dark, worried eyes. “I came as soon as I heard. Why are they holding you here? Surely they know you are a priest. How can they think…”
Father Peter fell back on the bed again. He sighed. “They found me with the body.” Suddenly the whole situation seemed hopeless. He had been here before, he knew how the system worked.
Stripped of his robe of office, he was powerless.
“But surely,,,” Dr Evans lowered himself carefully on to the bed beside Father Peter. “I don’t understand. You couldn’t possibly have killed Mr Brown. He was your head church warden, chair of the parish committee, your right hand support and … I truly believe … your good friend.”
“He was all of that. He was the best of men.” Father Peter realised he had not even thought to pray for the soul of his departed brother, surely a sign that he had indeed fallen from grace.
“So what happened?”
“I found him. When I came into the church this morning to prepare for Mass. He was lying on the alter steps, there was blood, so much blood. A knife. I must have picked it up as I bent down to see if he was … if he was still alive. That was when Mrs O’Leary started screaming. She must have come in just behind me.”
“They say she ran out of the church shouting ‘Father Peter has murdered Mr Brown!’.”
“What else could she have done?”
“But the police. They’re not fools. Why would they think you had done this? It doesn’t make sense.”
Father Peter shook his head.
“You’re in shock. Let me examine you. Have you got your angina pills with you?” The baffled doctor retreated into professional mode. Ten minutes later he left, turning at the door to say, “Don’t worry.
The truth will out. Just give it time.”
The truth. Already that was twisting and sliding away. Already Father Peter had begun to create a web of deceit that was entangling him. How easily he had avoided laying the facts before the detective inspector, how easily he had lied to his good friend the doctor. He believed he was following the laws of God, but what if there was no God, no holy righteousness? What if the only law was the law of the police and the courts and the prison?
Father Peter revisited the moment he entered the church that morning, the sickening sight of the body crumpled on the stone steps, the rustling of someone in the shadows, his own voice calm and authoritative ‘Come out. Let me see you.’
It was Tommy. Of course. It had to be.
Tommy Docherty, the boy he believed he could save, the abused, mixed-up tearaway he’d thought he could turn away from crime, perhaps bring to the love of God. Tommy creeping from behind a stone pillar, Tommy with a knife in his hand. Tommy whispering ‘Forgive me, Father. I am a sinner Father. Hear my confession Father.’ Tommy slipping away into the shadows, pardoned, forgiven, leaving behind his knife and the body of the man he had killed.
As the long hours crawled away, Father Peter examined the impossibility of his situation. To clear his own name he would have to give evidence against the boy, even break the sacred confidentiality of the confessional. If he said nothing, they would dig into his history, discover he had killed in the past, killed with a knife. Why would the Police search further for a murderer?
The light in his cell went out. It must be night, but hour after hour he continued to sit, wide awake. He realised he was waiting. Waiting for what? Another miracle? If God truly existed he would release him from this cell. If God existed.